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Delivering news over digital: how ready are we? 

Financial Express , Apr 10, 2018

The rapid growth of OTT TV viewership in India has become, some might say, a bit too ‘over the top’. India is on track to become the second largest online video viewing audience in the world by 2020, with currently more than 30 OTT players in the country. The market has become highly competitive as consumer trends change and viewers — in particular, young and digitally-savvy Indians — want to consume TV differently. The same applies to news and many broadcasters are changing their strategies to find ways to adapt.

Last year, Star India’s digital platform Hotstar announced it would introduce news as a distinct category, with the live streaming of third party news channel Republic TV marking a big movement in the evolution of the country’s streaming services. ABP News and Asianet News later joined the line-up alongside Fox News and Sky News.

Much of this growth has been attributed to Reliance Jio which, in 2016, introduced rock-bottom mobile pricing with the launch of nationwide 4G mobile services. Strategy Analytics’ Brice Longnos says Jio is “democratising bandwidth-intensive services like video viewing. With its suite of entertainment apps, including live-streaming and (VoD) services — JioTV and JioCinema — being available for free, Jio has created a comfortable environment for consumers to grow their video consumption over mobile broadband”.

The multi-platform approach

Indians are deeply interested in understanding their country and the world they live in, and it is vital for news broadcasters to reach their audiences on whatever platforms they use. Short-form is eclipsing long-form news and social media has become much more prevalent. With over 300 million internet-enabled mobile phones and falling tariff rates, digital media’s presence in the country is only expected to grow. According to the FICCI-EY 2018 report, about 250 million people viewed videos online in 2017 and these numbers are expected to double to 500 million by 2020.

Key to any news brand is a multi-platform approach, so although pay TV is growing in a number of markets, online content consumption is growing at an even faster pace and none of the broadcasters wants to risk being ‘not-available’ on any type of screen — from mobile to tablet, laptop or TV. Multi-platform availability may in the long run come down to the question of being relevant in the broader market.

Many news broadcasters embrace the prospect of working with new partners, but with new issues around credibility of news in a post-truth world, the industry is more conscious than ever about the importance of brand safety. Global players are increasingly signing content licensing deals with local players in order to expand the quantity and variety of content they can provide and gain a foothold in India’s OTT market. In addition, they are investing in original short-form content that their audiences want, especially consumers of regional content. In the news industry, partners and advertisers want the assured quality of a trusted news brand as well as quality content. And trusted news will be as important as ever as we approach the elections in India next year. The consequences of the
post-truth era don’t just impact the media but also the democracy itself.

Investing in the product

Everyone involved in the news business, whether journalists or platforms or advertisers, need to questions their commitment to fundamental principles such as accuracy and objectivity, and if we get this wrong, the consequences for society will be extremely dangerous.

India has a real need for high-quality news coverage that provides a global perspective as well as a clear separation between a trustworthy, independent media and politics. Continuing to invest in quality journalism is an expensive business which has to be paid for somehow. Advertisers and media platforms provide the funding which allows journalists to do their work, so the future of pay TV matters.

Driven by the huge growth of video consumption on digital media, OTT platforms have been a key focus for leading media companies. Some believe the growth of OTT viewership could pose a threat to linear distribution platforms. With the fall in broadband pricing, the gap between the cost of watching TV on broadband and traditional cable or direct-to-home TV has significantly reduced, although it is still more expensive to watch TV using broadband.

For now, pay TV is growing in a number of global markets and OTT subscription in India is expected to reach Rs 2,000 crore by 2020. For as long as Indians are interested in learning about the world they live in, international TV news channels will remain an important part in this market. In a digital world of seemingly infinite choice and huge benefits for viewers, it is important that broadcasters uphold the highest standards and remain true to their values, while also innovating and investing in new ways of getting their content to audiences.